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Thread: Haydn's Piano Sonatas

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    Air
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    Default Haydn's Piano Sonatas

    A little thread for these jewels of the repertoire.

    I'll be the first to admit that I've never been the biggest fan of Haydn's music. Though most of his symphonies are pleasant, only a few of them have actually ever stood out to me in my listening (#88, 103, 104) and even these I could never find myself to listen to as much as Mozart's Jupiter or 39th, Beethoven's Eroica or 9th, Bruckner's 9th, Mahler's 2nd, Brahms's 4th and the such. And after an attempted foray into Haydn's daunting oeuvre, I found that my initial enthusiasm with his music had died down into a sort of accepting appreciation and a deep respect for music that I knew was great but simply could not come to terms with myself.

    When I first began to discover Haydn's piano sonatas, string quartets, oratorios and masses, I felt a bit cheated. I had always been told that Haydn was the "father of the symphony" and that if I didn't get his symphonies first and foremost there was something wrong. But what I found in these other areas of his output was simply a delight. Along with some of his concerti, it really showed me what a well-rounded composer the man truly was, having written such diverse masterpieces as the Creation, Symphony No. 104, op. 50 and op. 76 quartets, Trumpet Concerto, and the Lord Nelson Mass. And then there were the piano sonatas.

    Much has been said about Haydn's chamber music, choral works, and symphonies here of late. The piano sonatas, however, have a very special place among his works for me. It was only last year that I decided to perform my first Haydn sonata, after being stuck on Beethoven among classical era sonatas practically all my life. It's during this time too that I first discovered a beautiful Georgian pianist from the Rubinstein Competition named Khatia Buniatishvili, whose Schumann Fantasie has a hypnotizing effect on me even to this day. But she also played the Haydn c minor sonata (which only later did I discover was numbered 33, Hob. XVI:20) with such feeling that I sensed that I could feel the colors of each of Haydn's modulations shifting and surging almost like an artistic display of colored lights. This particular sonata had such emotionally written in tempo changes and dynamic changes that somehow the music just sprang out of the page at me, came to life as vividly as would a dance from Stravinsky's Le Sacre. And this is how I really came into terms with Haydn, having the privilege to get to know this work under my fingers and having it molded into my subconscious.

    One day a couple months ago, I was in an utterly unmotivated, tired state, absolutely nothing to stimulate my mind. This was when I decided to drive to my piano teacher's house, where long ago I had discovered the Well Tempered Clavier and found it a lifelong companion. She had all three sets of Haydn's sonatas on her shelves and I began to go through each of them one by one. Of course I had heard of the C Major and Eb Major sonatas before, but as I played them for the first time, there was just this infectious sense of love for the music, each note, each clever modulation, in my body, which in turn restored a sort of joie de vivre in me that I had not felt for a good long while. Haydn was so clever so witty, so interesting, and so beautifully balanced - somehow a lot more fresh to me than many of those Mozart sonatas that for all my life I've been told were far superior. They're not. Haydn far surpasses Mozart in this repertoire in my opinion, though that's not a fault of Mozart himself, who wrote most of his piano music for his students. In contrast, one can sense how personal Haydn's sonatas were for him - the new sense of discovery in each chromatic harmony that oozes out of the Hob XVI:52, the heart-wrenching transition from unyielding b minor to sensitive d major in the Hob XVI:32, the sudden surge of anger from D major to d minor in the Hob XVI:37.

    It was a bit like finding a balance between Beethoven and Mozart for me, the best of both worlds which I had never even known existed. It's definitely a place I'd like to remain as long as I could, and while I'm there I have about a couple dozen of more sonatas to get to know well, all facets of Haydn's creative personality which I must say I find bland and unmemorable no longer.

    Anyways, I didn't mean to hog the thread with my long, quite superfluous narrative. I'm sure many of you love these works just as much as I do and have plenty to say as well.
    Last edited by Air; Jun-17-2011 at 23:30.
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    tdc
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    Good information here. The Haydn Piano Sonatas are yet another area of the classical music repertoire I have yet to explore. You are not the first to rave about them on this forum, so I think they just got bumped up a notch on my list of selected works to check out.

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    Nix
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    I agree with everything said. Haydn is one of those composers where being able to play the music makes you appreciate it so much more. With all those harmonic nuance's going by, it's easy to miss them as a listener. An interesting thing to note is that he often marks his pieces to be played 'Innocente.' I guess the pieces do seem unassuming, but there's so much more to them. You mentioned the C major and the Eb as the popular ones, and those are wonderful. My other favorites include the e minor, the Ab major H46 and the G major H40.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Haydn's piano sonatas are seldom mentioned. Folks simply forget their place in music history. These sonatas are as key to the development of western classical music in the sonata form, as are his symphonies and string quartets for those genres. Remember that Haydn was born in 1732, and for the next few decades, the Baroque was still riding well and high.

    Haydn was a composer who composed at the keyboard. As far as we know, he sat by his keyboard and worked out the pieces that way, and praying every now and then to his God if the inspiration didn't come to him. That was what he did. So to write pieces exclusively for the piano and in the sonata form was very much right up his forte, and anybody who took the time and effort to listen to them all, as I did, could clearly see for themselves the enormous musical mileage that he himself worked out. He was very much influenced by CPE Bach, by the way, another great keyboard composer.

    I bought this a couple of years ago. BIS label issued the whole set after pianist Ronald Brautigam recorded them over a period of years. Everything Haydn every wrote for the solo piano, all sixty plus sonatas, miscellaneous pieces including a transcribed version of Seven last words of Christ on the Cross. Brautigam played stylished on a later model Classical fortepiano (replica of an A. G. Walter 1795 original instrument). Haydn's wit and Classicism most apparent when played on a fortepiano.

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    If you haven't heard Sokolov play Haydn's sonatas, you may not be aware of how you should be playing them.
    Experience teaches you to recognize a mistake when you've made it again.
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    Air
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    If you haven't heard Sokolov play Haydn's sonatas, you may not be aware of how you should be playing them.
    I've heard you mention Sokolov's Haydn a couple times now, sounds like I better hear them. I'm not sure what you mean by the second clause though - in what way do you feel that Sokolov's interpretation is justified as "more correct" than the way a pianist such as myself personally approaches these sonatas?
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Air
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nix View Post
    With all those harmonic nuance's going by, it's easy to miss them as a listener. An interesting thing to note is that he often marks his pieces to be played 'Innocente.' I guess the pieces do seem unassuming, but there's so much more to them. You mentioned the C major and the Eb as the popular ones, and those are wonderful. My other favorites include the e minor, the Ab major H46 and the G major H40.
    I agree with you about Haydn's modulations. I don't know quite how to describe it but he often does this falling or rising sort of harmonic exploration that sort of reminds me of Handel's work. I do agree that Haydn needs a lot of naivety to approach - one of the most useful things I was told when playing his music was simply (pun intended for emphasis) "more simple, more enjoyable". The C major is a great example of this I feel with its wit and lively character. I also just heard the Ab Major and the e minor for the first time these last few days and really enjoyed them, particularly the Ab. I also can't get over this simple minor-major transition in the b minor sonata (which happens at ~32 seconds on the video):

    Last edited by Air; Jun-18-2011 at 02:19.
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    Air
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
    Haydn was a composer who composed at the keyboard. As far as we know, he sat by his keyboard and worked out the pieces that way, and praying every now and then to his God if the inspiration didn't come to him. That was what he did. So to write pieces exclusively for the piano and in the sonata form was very much right up his forte, and anybody who took the time and effort to listen to them all, as I did, could clearly see for themselves the enormous musical mileage that he himself worked out. He was very much influenced by CPE Bach, by the way, another great keyboard composer.
    You make a very good point about Haydn's stature in the development of the sonata form and how his piano works are a key part of this development just as the symphonies and string quartets are. The fact that Haydn composed from the keyboard also intrigues me since he wasn't as well-known as a pianist compared to C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Your right about C.P.E. too, he was such an innovator for the keyboard yet his piano works are so neglected - I think it was of him that Mozart said "He is the father, we are the children." Anyways, I should probably get Haydn on the fortepiano sometime, the recording you mention is a great recommendation. I do like the pianoforte recordings I've heard though - Brendel especially and older pianists too like Richter, Gould, and Yudina.
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    I quite enjoy Marc-Andre Hamelin's recordings of the Haydn sonatas on Hyperion - I have the second volume. I also have one of the volumes of the Brautigam recordings on BIS - I can't remember right now which one, but I enjoy it as well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    I quite enjoy Marc-Andre Hamelin's recordings of the Haydn sonatas on Hyperion - I have the second volume. I also have one of the volumes of the Brautigam recordings on BIS - I can't remember right now which one, but I enjoy it as well.
    I have both volumes of Hamelin Haydn, and they're quickly becoming my favorites. Well, I shouldn't say quickly, since I've had them since they were released. They've grown well. Hamelin has the lilt, the playfulness as required.

    Others I own 'n enjoy--Gould, Richter, Sudbin, Brendel, Schiff, Pletnev, Pogorelich, Horowitz, Xiao-Mei.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Air View Post
    I've heard you mention Sokolov's Haydn a couple times now, sounds like I better hear them. I'm not sure what you mean by the second clause though - in what way do you feel that Sokolov's interpretation is justified as "more correct" than the way a pianist such as myself personally approaches these sonatas?
    Jeez, I never intended the 'more correct' connotation. I have no formulated understanding of what 'correct' might be. I am aware that most of the sonatas 'work' as well for harpsichord as they do in the way they are usually played on a piano. Sokolov's interpretations definitely require a piano. A fortepiano
    - say an 1830 Viennese action - would serve, but the 'information' that Sokolov conveys is beyond the capability of a 'clavier'.

    You're right, you better hear them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    Jeez, I never intended the 'more correct' connotation. I have no formulated understanding of what 'correct' might be. I am aware that most of the sonatas 'work' as well for harpsichord as they do in the way they are usually played on a piano. Sokolov's interpretations definitely require a piano. A fortepiano
    - say an 1830 Viennese action - would serve, but the 'information' that Sokolov conveys is beyond the capability of a 'clavier'.

    You're right, you better hear them.
    Has he done more than three sonatas? The YouTube offering of Sonata No.50 Hob.XVI: 37 didn't sound too hot...rushed with hollow acoustic. Anything available beside that and MP3 download? CD, DVD?

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    Has he done more than three sonatas? The YouTube offering of Sonata No.50 Hob.XVI: 37 didn't sound too hot...rushed with hollow acoustic. Anything available beside that and MP3 download? CD, DVD?
    He has done more than 3 sonatas. I have, and have heard, only mp3 downloads from various concerts. That is about all that is archived from him nowadays; possibly a great loss for posterity I think. He may be the finest pianist now living.
    Experience teaches you to recognize a mistake when you've made it again.
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    @ Air - Enjoyed the Brendel video, the first time I've heard a Haydn piano sonata in ages. Last time was a couple of years ago on radio, and I think it was being played on a clavichord, which kind of sounded more delicate (halfway between a harpsichord and piano)...
    Contrasts and Connections in Music

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    No surprise, I really enjoy his piano sonatas and variations. My favorite performers are Brendel and Richter. But I recently picked up Buchbinder and liked how well thought out his performers are. Neither a banger, nor a softie, neither fast nor slow but just as is needed... he is flexible and dynamic.

    btw I saw the Brautigam set on sell at arkivmusic this weekend.

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